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Title: Dead Swan Award - 2002, Tom Fitzsimmons, Director, Washington Department of Ecology; Gary Locke, Governor, Washington State.
Author: John Osborn
Date: December 31, 2002 | ID#: 021231
Category: Coeur d'Alene Superfund
Keywords: Tom Fitzsimmons, Gary Locke, dead swans, lead, Spokane River, Coeur d'Alene Basin, Superfund, Lake Coeur d'Alene, MOA, Memoradum of Agreement, Idaho, Washington 

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News Release
December 31, 2002

Sierra Club Bestows Dead Swan Award on
Tom Fitzsimmons and Gov. Gary Locke

SPOKANE, WA--The Upper Columbia River Group of the Sierra Club awarded its 2002 Dead Swan Award to Tom Fitzsimmons, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, and Governor Gary Locke. In August, Fitzsimmons shocked the region when he signed Washington State onto a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that transfers authority for cleaning up mine wastes polluting waters in both states to a commission controlled by Idaho.

The award is named for the tundra swans that migrate through the Coeur d'Alene basin each spring, stopping to feed in polluted wetlands. Due to the toxic waste left from more than a century of silver mining in the mountains surrounding Kellogg, Idaho, the swans are poisoned by lead. Lead paralyzes the swans' ability to swallow and they slowly starve to death in the wetlands that biologists call 'the killing fields': 15,000 acres upstream of Lake Coeur d'Alene covered by 100 million tons of toxic sediments.

Dead Swan Award - 2002

Tom Fitzsimmons,

Department of Ecology

Gary Locke,

Washington State

Sierra Club
Upper Columbia River Group
P.O. Box 413
Spokane, WA 99210
(509) 456-3376


John Osborn, MD
Conservation Chair
Sierra Club
Upper Columbia
River Group

Jessica F. Frohman
Sierra Club
National Conservation
Washington D.C.
202.548-4595 or


Coeur d'Alene Superfund
Cleanup, Background

Northern Rockies
Chapter Sierra Club

Sierra Club

The toxic ore body killing swans is also the major source of lead that pollutes Spokane River beaches: annual floods in the upper watersheds, exacerbated by forest clearcuts, transport millions of pounds of lead into Lake Coeur d'Alene and then into Washington State. In addition, nearly 3,000 pounds of zinc flow daily from the Idaho mining district into the region's waterbodies. Washington state water quality standards for toxic metals are routinely violated at the state line, with serious implications for aquatic and human health. In 2000 the Spokane Regional Health District posted signs on Upper Spokane River beaches warning of public health risks from lead and arsenic. In 2001 the Health District, along with the Washington Departments of Ecology and Health, warned the public to not consume any fish caught between the state line and Upriver Dam, near Spokane.

"The Dead Swan Award is a fitting trophy for Tom Fitzsimmons and Governor Locke," said John Osborn, Spokane physician and Conservation Chair of the Sierra Club's Upper Columbia River Group. "They have betrayed the trust of the people of eastern Washington, and condemned the river flowing through the heart of Spokane to a polluted future. Washington taxpayers will be paying to clean up Idaho's pollution for a very long time."

Idaho's political leaders have vigorously opposed the Superfund cleanup of the Coeur d'Alene Basin. In contrast, eastern Washington supports a comprehensive cleanup led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and not by Idaho.

"Idaho is committing malfeasance in failing to protect its citizens, especially children, from the toxic effects of lead," said Tina Paddock, homeowner and mother-turned-activist upon discovering her Wallace, Idaho, home was contaminated with lead. [See Communities At Risk webpage]. "Tom Fitzsimmons is now a collaborator with Idaho."

According to documents obtained by the Sierra Club through a public record request, Tom Fitzsimmons and his staff were involved in secret negotiations with Idaho for a year. Although Ecology founded and funds the Washington Citizen Advisory Committee (a stakeholder group specifically created to advise the agency on Coeur d'Alene Superfund issues), Ecology never consulted with the Committee regarding the MOA.

On August 13th, Fitzsimmons joined with EPA Administrator Christie Whitman and Idaho's political leaders to drink untreated water from Lake Coeur d'Alene and sign the MOA, transferring cleanup authority from EPA to Idaho. Idaho is actively working to delete Lake Coeur d'Alene from the Superfund, a major concern raised by Fitzsimmons and Ecology staff in the internal documents obtained by the Sierra Club.

The Commission was created by the Idaho Legislature. It is comprised of seven members: Idaho state, 3 counties in north Idaho, a single representative for all federal agencies, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, and Washington state. Washington lacks full standing: the state can vote but, unlike the other government representatives, cannot veto actions of the Idaho Commission, even if they are harmful to Washington's interests.

Conservationists have fought the Commission from the time it was first introduced in the Idaho Legislature in 2001, and have carried their concerns to the U.S. Congress. Nonetheless, in 2002, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) succeeded in attaching $2 million for the Commission onto an unrelated funding bill for Veterans Administration and Housing and Urban Development. Further, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who blocked nationally popular brownsfield legislation in efforts to protect mining companies from financial liability for the Coeur d'Alene pollution, has introduced a bill allocating $250 million to the Idaho Commission for the cleanup. Funding would come directly from taxpayers and not the polluting mining companies as required under Superfund.

"The Coeur d'Alene Superfund cleanup is one of the nation's largest, most difficult, most costly, and most contentious," said Jessica Frohman, the Sierra Club's National Conservation Organizer in Washington, D.C. "Given Idaho's record, why would any human health or environmentally concerned person agree to cede control of the cleanup to Idaho? The leaders of the State of Washington have made a terrible blunder."

While conservationists acknowledge that Washington was able to improve the final cleanup plan, they also point out that the plan remains deeply flawed and that Idaho now controls its implementation. "The Locke Administration places a higher priority on getting along with Idaho than protecting Washington's public health and natural resources," said Osborn. "The Spokane River has been treated like an industrial sewer for over 100 years. When will it ever stop?"

The award has only been given once before. Former-Senator Slade Gorton received the Dead Swan Award in 1999 for his efforts to suspend public law to benefit a Texas mining company trying to build an open pit cyanide leach gold mine in the mountains of eastern Washington.




Lead-killed Tundra Swans, Coeur d'Alene Basin